A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about landscapes

Halong Bay

We went out to Halong Bay for two days and a night, after booking with a small travel agency in old town, Hanoi. I would guess they all sell the same tours on various boats with slightly different prices. Unfortunately, we didn't really get as far as Bai Tu Long Bay, as they said we would. This bay is much less crowded than Halong, which is full of tourist boats out to see the karst mountains jutting straight out of the water. As a result of all the traffic, it is far from pristine. We saw a considerable amount of floating garbage, and I'm sure that many boats just dump their waste in the water. Despite that, and the less then ideal weather, it was still quite beautiful. The fog added atmosphere to the limestone crags looming in the azure and tranquil sea.

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We made the typical stops to a few of the islands, including one with a sizable cave, another with a small beach, and one with a tower on top of a mountain with a commanding view of the bay.




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I couldn't resist
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While walking around, and even on board, various passing boats were eager to sell us food and souvenirs. People actually live out on the bay, and there is even a floating school.

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On our small junk, we had a fun, international group of people ranging from a Mexican psychology professor to a young couple from Corsica, a Finnish couple, and a Quebecois from the city of the same name. William, in his mid 30's, was enough to change my mind about professional soldiers. They are not all mindless killers. He had been to Afghanistan a number of times, and was going back there for another six weeks to finish his tour of duty. He clearly cares a great deal about the Afghani's, and is there because he thinks that he can do some good for the country. He is hopeful that when he and the Americans leave, the people will be better off, and there will be peace. We shall see. In any event, he was a delight to talk to, and had a great sense of humor to boot. We drank snake wine together, which is as awful as it sounds, and we went garbage fishing in the bay at night. What is that, you might ask? Well, the crew gave us fishing rods to catch fish, but all we managed to do was to snag pieces of floating debris. Others, including William also sang Karaoke. I abstained, given my inability to carry a tune.




Our group, inside the cave. William in shorts/white shirt, center left
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It was a great experience spending the night on the boat, with occasional views of the moon behind the clouds and mountains. The food was also exceptional, and though this was far from a luxurious boat, they treated us well.



Not ours, but it was similar
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The bus ride back to Hanoi was long, and then our cab driver in Hanoi got lost in the insane rush hour traffic. Luckily we were able to call Thuy, our hostess, and she was able to speak to and direct him. At a certain point, we had to get out of the taxi because we couldn't move. We had to walk several blocks on a main street, which was jammed with motorbikes, cars, regular bikes and people, so much so, that it was difficult to maneuver around without getting hit by someone. It was a relief to find our way through the maze of side alleys to Chez Linhlinh.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged landscapes people boats tourist_sites Comments (3)

Ovacik

We have spent four enjoyable days hiking in the Tauros Mountains, high above the intensely developed coastline of southern Turkey. At 1250 meters, the sea is still visible down a long valley, right in front of our terrace at Gul Mountain House.



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At times, we can even see the shoreline opposite Antalya Bay and the high mountains beyond.





Sea and Sky Merge in these pictures
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It is different world up here in the shadow of Tahtali Dag, 2650 meters, still snow covered at the end of April.





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The scenery is quite alpine, despite the relatively low elevation. There are sharp rocky peaks rising above the piney forests that cling to the flatter crevices on the cliffs. In between the mountains, are small villages with red tile roofs that have more goats than people.







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It took the better part of the day to get here from Egirdir. The big bus to Antalya was fine, but the dolmus from the octogar (bus station) was very slow, taking almost 2 hours to go the 50k down the coast to Kemer. From there we contacted our hotel and they came to collect us. Thanks to Omar, the manager and cook, the food is fantastic, perhaps the best we have had in Turkey. Often he gives us a half a dozen mezes, including what is probably the best yoghurt ever, stuffed and smoked eggplant, salad, olives, homemade bread from the wood oven, soup, and then a main course of fish, chicken etc., also cooked in the same oven. Enough food for at least four people, and then a sizable breakfast as well, all included in the price of 130 Lira, a definite bargain.When we first arrived, the hotel was practically empty. Omar told us that summer is their busy time, and despite the heat, a lot of Russians make it up from the beaches in Kemer, including his Russian girlfriend. This time of year, it is mostly Europeans, and sometimes day trippers on a jeep safari, who stop for lunch.

We spent day two hiking a section of the Lycian Way. Luckily two Dutch hikers showed up with good maps and a GPS because the trail markers were few and far between. Kate Clow's descriptions and maps were almost useless, in part because they assumed a starting point in Fethiye, a long way in the opposite direction.



View of Tahtali Dag from Lycian Way
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After about 5 hours of rugged slogging on a trail with many twists and turns, brambles,etc, we arrived in Geldelme, a small village with an overpriced restaurant. But the beer really hit the spot. From there we walked part way back on the road when we were lucky enoubgh to hitch a ride in the back of a truck.

The next day we ignored the Lycian Way altogether, and walked down a couple of clicks back to the tiny village of Ovacik. We then followed a dirt track that a butted up against two large rock faces. After about 7K of relatively flat walking, there was an even smaller road heading up towards Tahtali Dag. We took it up towards the pass, eventually stopping in a subalpine meadow. Small purple, yellow and white flowers dotted the grass. The road continued, but we walked back the way we had come. Altogether it must have been 25K, a long but satisfying day.

Today, a shorter walk up the paved road in a different direction, and then to a village on the right. From there we scrambled close to the top of a nearby, but low mountain, and then back to another dirt road leading up and around the far side of the valley. We stopped for lunch in a field surrounded by old pines, with views looking out at the misty sea. We returned to the hotel for the last night and another huge and scrumptious dinner. There were an interesting mix of people now staying at the Mountain House. Several more Dutch couples, a couple of Brits, and a very friendly young couple from Australia, one of whom was originally from Moscow. After we finished dinner, not long before dark, a group of elderly Germans showed up after hiking all day.





Birds Flying just off hotel deck
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All in all, it was a delightful and relaxing coda (or nearly so) to our time in Turkey.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:21 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes mountains postcards Comments (2)

Pamukkale

Melrose Guesthouse. We arrived here on a day when the travertines were free for the Turks, and there was an air show as well. The small town was packed,
and when we got to our hotel they had overbooked and did not have a room. They did put us up for free in a relative's guest house next door, not nearly as nice, but the price was right. Our current room is probably the best one we have had in Turkey thus far, with a big round bed covered with bright red pillows and spread. Hugh Heffner, roll over. There is also a terrace overlooking snow capped mountains. I wasn't expecting such an impressive landscape as none of the guidebooks mentioned it.



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Incredibly, the proprietress, Leyla, who is Turkish, was actually born and raised in Wangen. As my ongoing readers know, Wangen is a small place in southern Germany that is home to our friends, Antonette and Joachim, whom we visited just prior to Istanbul. She didn't know them, but still...

Leyla returned to Turkey when she was 10, and we had an interesting discussion with her about feeling caught between two cultures, similar to the talk with Alex in Ayvalik. It was hard for her when she first attended school because her turkish was not very good, and they put her in a younger grade. At that time, all the girls had to dress in black and she wasn't used to that. Things are much easier now, but she still doesn't feel completely Turkish. For example, she always has to be on time, and follow through with what she says she will do, which is not the same for many Turks. She can imagine how she wants the guesthouse to look, and she thinks this too would be difficult for most of her countrymen/women. In the beginning, these things created problems with her husband, but now she says, he is just like her.

Rather than going up to the travertines on a very crowded day, we arranged a side trip to Aphrodisias It was a bit of a haul as the ruins are about a 100K drive, but on the way there we took the longer scenic route through the mountains. We shared our mini bus ride with three young foreign exchange students, an American studying in Ankara, as well as a couple of Aussies.

The ruins only had a scattering of people, and the setting rivaled Pergamum with snow peaks in the distance and green fields all around. The city, is dedicated to Aphrodite, goddess of love, desire, and beauty, and the place lives up to her name.





Temple, and on right, Torso of Achilles
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On the grounds there is also a museum which has statues and busts of local prominent figures, (from 2500 years ago), as well as various Gods including Aphrodite.




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Today was our day to ascend the travertines, and it was a blast. You can see it below, but it is essentially a mountain of snow white chalk and mineral deposits, that was created by thermal springs that bubble up in several places, putting out a constant stream of warm, mineral laden water that washes over the rocks.





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To prevent destruction of the site, everyone is asked to take off their shoes, and so barefoot, we continued up the ramp, which is like a white staircase. It is interspersed with a dozen or so small pools, each one a different temperature, but all relatively warm.




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We didn't know about the pools, and so didn't wear bathing suits, but no matter, we went into every one of them, clothes and all. We smeared ourselves with the loose chalk at the bottom of each of them so we didn't get too sunburned, and it wasn't crowded so we had many of them to ourselves. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture the full effects our pool romps with pictures. My hands and clothes were too dirty to handle the camera, and I was, frankly, a bit embarrassed to ask a stranger to do it.

As we soaked up the mildly radioactive (we hope) waters, we gazed out at the green valley below and the snow peaks on the opposite side. Hard to beat it.


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Slowly we made our way to the plateau above, where we put our shoes back on and walked to Hieropolis, a Roman city that was later home to Jews, Christians, and finally Muslims. Further on, we came to an ancient, steeply banked theater, that probably seated 30,000 or more back in the day. Complete with subterranean passages, near perfect acoustics and sightlines to the stage, it is an architectural marvel. I imagined the cheers and shouting of a gladitorial contest, as I sat on the uppermost seats, looking out toward the travertines and the high mountains in the distance. Those Romans obviously had a highly developed sense of style and aesthetics.





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After taking all of this in, we continued past more deserted ruins of the ancient city, and then back down the white staircase in what was then (2,000 + years ago), the center of town.



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A late lunch of spinach and feta crepes completed a near perfect day, certainly one of the highlights of our time in this fascinating country.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes buildings_postcards Comments (2)

Trekking in the High Atlas Mountains

I am sitting on the earth-roof terrace of the house of our 2nd Berber hosts, roughly 50K from Taroudant.




The View looks like this
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We have spent the last two days hiking in the dry High Atlas. They are drier this year than most as the last rain/snow on this side of the mountains was October of 2011. On the first day of hiking we got started later than we hoped and it was very hot for the first few hours. The walking was not especially difficult as the mountains are round in places, rather than craggy. However, despite our intentions, we got a late start, and it was hot, very hot. We stopped for a much needed two hour lunch before continuing around and down.



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Bjorn and Katya
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The Author and Nanette
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During our break, I got a chance to talk to our guide Abdel, who is a most interesting man. A sculptor who has seen some hard times, he now makes money by taking visitors trekking in the mountains. He seeks out and finds out of the way places, and seems to understand that roads and so called progress are always a mixed bag. He is quite sophisticated and knowledgeable, and, as we were soon to find out, an absolutely doll. He took care of us in unbelievable ways.

He is, in my humble opinion, The Man to go trekking with in Morocco. And did I mention that he speaks English, as well as French, Arabic, and Berber. I guess this is an unsolicited commercial. Forget about Said, and contact Abdel directly at abdelroudana@gmail.com.

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At our first home stay, the family more or less left us alone and cooked us a simple dinner. The children, however, were most curious.


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The second day of hiking was more difficult, and we got up as high as 3000M, where the altitude slowed us down. It was a long day, and the way down was the hardest part, at least for me.




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We descended many switchbacks to the green oasis you see below. Lots of loose scree and some exposure and we didn't arrive until 6 PM. Our hosts immediately came out to meet us with tea, freshly squeezed warm milk from their cows, and homemade bread. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome to this idyllic spot.






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Mother of the Family
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Daughter in law and Baby Baking Bread
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Unfortunately, every silver lining has a dark cloud. Not long after we arrived, Bjorn got sick. Violently sick. Shitting and vomiting, everything coming out from both ends. Now, Bjorn is a big guy and he was laid low by a stomach bug, like a giant tree toppling over in the forest. To make matters worse, this was Katya's first real hike. She was a trooper on the trek itself, but this kind of thing threw her and she didn't know what to do. Luckily we did, having dealt with this on many occasions. Unfortunately there is not much you can do, other than to keep hydrated, not an easy task when everything wants to come out. And then, when things settle down a bit, pop a Cipro, if it seems like you are still quite ill. Our lovely Berber family was upset about all this, and they seemed to feel responsible, as did Abdel. We did our best to try and convince them otherwise, but I'm not sure it did any good. They kept bring out more food which we couldn't eat. After we went to bed, Nanette got sick. Not as badly as Bjorn, but bad enough. The night was not especially restful for obvious reasons, but the barking dogs, braying donkeys, sheep and goats, a real menagerie, didn't help. The 4 AM call to prayer was blissfully muted, but I still heard it nonetheless. The local mosque, smoke rising in the background, looked quite beautiful in the morning.





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Katya and I, who avoided getting sick, tried to figure out what the others ate that we didn't. Hard to know, but perhaps it was the dates they had for lunch. We both skipped them, not being date fans, but it really could have been anything.

Our original plan had been to hike for five days, but Bjorn and Nanette were both quite weak in the morning, and so going on didn't seem like an option. We spent the day with our Berber family, while the sick ones slept for part of it. They were really special people, making rice gruel and other easy to digest food, and then kissing and hugging us, the women anyway, trying to convince us to stay with them longer. It seems that many of the villagers are like this, and despite everything, it felt like a privilege to be so welcomed into their home. We could tell they still felt badly about the stomach problems, despite Abdel's saying to them that it wasn't their fault.




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I chatted with Abdel about politics, money, economics, Islam, and how it has been distorted almost everywhere. We were solving the world's problems together, and it seems we think very much alike.


When our ride didn't materialize at the end of the day, Abdel went in search of another, and managed to arrange for us to ride in the back of a truck. Along with a half a dozen other men, and a pile of scrap metal, we zoomed around the s curves in record time, holding on tightly to avoid being thrown from one side to the other.

Abdel invited us to stay in his house which he was in the process of fixing up as a guest house. It wasn't quite ready yet, but he had two bedrooms that were finished. After finding out that it was quiet, ie, far away from the mosque, I didn't hesitate, and we went straight there after arriving back in Taroudant.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:08 Archived in Morocco Tagged landscapes mountains backpacking Comments (1)

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